“Dad is sad.
Very, very sad.
He had a bad day.
What a day dad had!” – Dr. Seuss
Sometimes I feel that way – and then I feel bad for letting it affect how I interact with my kids. If I’m stressed, they can see it. If I’m burned out, it shows.
We forget sometimes, that with the responsibilities of a job and a family comes another task – not so obvious, but just as important: Taking care of yourself.
Dads (and moms) can get way too caught up in the stresses of modern life, and take on the effects of it in our bodies and minds. We need to learn how to blow off steam and clear our heads so that we can be at our best for our loved ones, and not be grumpy old stick-in-the-muds.
I’ve found that one of the easiest ways to burn off stress is to play often. Especially something physically challenging.
It comes easy to kids, but not so much for us adults.
Much of the time, we simply forget to play, or we tell ourselves it’s not a priority. But play is important. If we are only working, and never playing, we’re only experiencing half of life, and by bringing play back into our life, we can discover a whole new side of our self that we haven’t paid any attention to for a long time.
After leaving school and starting to work, I was invited a number of times to come and play on the company softball team, or to join a community sports league, but I always thought that was for old guys, and I didn’t ever join up. I was also innocent enough to think that my body would just naturally stay young and strong, without having to work at it. That was the case up until I hit my early thirties, and then something really shifted for me.
Even though I worked hard, I wasn’t working at a job that was physically taxing, so my body didn’t need to keep up. I started going to a gym, and then changed to work out at a home gym instead, to save money. That helped to keep my fitness up, but it really lacked something: community. When I played sports as a kid, I really enjoyed the camaraderie of the team and the challenge of working together to win the games.
And so the next time someone asked if I was interested in playing on a team, I jumped at the chance. A local indoor sports arena had indoor soccer leagues for men during the winter, and a friend had put together a team to play that season. At first, I wasn’t really too sure about it – after all, I hadn’t played soccer in almost 20 years – but after the first few games, I realized what a positive thing it was in my life. On one night a week, I could go all out, running and kicking and hollering to my teammates, and burn off all of the steam and stress from my job, or from family pressures. I could just go play.
I ended up playing with that team every session during the winter until I moved away, and I didn’t realize how important it was to me until I didn’t have that group of guys to go run around with anymore. But, things have a way of finding you when you need them, and a new friend here has been scheduling a weekly pickup soccer game, so I’ve gotten to add that back into my life again. I also enjoy biking and bouldering, but both of those are solitary experiences for me, and it’s been great to have a group of people to play with on a regular basis.
You really need to add some play back into your life.
If your favorite kind of play is solo – biking or running – then give your friends a call and go for a group run or ride. If there’s a basketball court or field near your home or work, pick a weekday evening and tell all your buddies to invite their friends for a pickup game. I’d bet that after once or twice, you’ll find that most guys would come to a regular weekly game if someone coordinated it.
If you see a sign up sheet for things like community softball, basketball, or soccer, put your name down, pay the fee, and commit to it. Softball bats and other similar equipment may seem expensive, but they’re well worth the investment. Chances are, you’ll be a healthier and happier person because of it. Granted, there are always guys playing in those who are overly competitive, and who get really bent out of shape at a missed play or a lost game, but for the most part, I’ve found a great inclusiveness to the teams I’ve played with. It didn’t matter if I wasn’t the star player, and I got better with every game or practice, so don’t put off joining until you’ve got some serious skills.
I’ve also found that I’ve met a lot of cool people with similar interests through community sports, and I think that it’s a great way to further your personal and professional networks.
Do yourself a favor and play hard and play often. Get your heart rate up, and sweat through your shirt at least once a week. It builds community and makes you a happier dude, err, dad.
Image: Jayel Aheram at Flickr